File : Ecological alternatives

The ecological alternatives

Traditional textile fibers such as cotton or polyester are the most used by the sector and have a very important environmental impact. But there are several environmentally friendly alternatives to these fibers to reduce this impact.

By Laurie Masson.

The ecological alternatives

In 2010, cotton and polyester accounted for 85% of the world’s textile fiber production! The use of other fibers is therefore still limited. In addition, it has an impact on the agricultural and industrial sectors.

To produce 1kg of cotton, 3800 liters of water are used, not to mention the use of pesticides. To produce 1kg of polyester, it takes only 17 liters of water but twice as much energy, and a lot of CO2 emissions into the air and water.

There are two types of fibers: natural (vegetable or animal) and artificial (synthetic or cellulosic).

Natural fibers

Natural vegetable fiber : Cotton

Flax: Although it requires the use of fertilizers and herbicides, it has little impact on water consumption and pollution.

Natural animal fiber : Wool

Notes: Use of insecticides and pesticides to treat parasites on sheep. Cleaning of the fiber by using solvents.


Resulting from the sericulture (breeding of the silkworm, the caterpillar of the butterfly “Bombyx mori”. Silkworms are harvested from mulberry trees: pesticides and fertilizers are used, although in smaller quantities than for cotton plantations. The fiber is extracted by boiling water to kill the worms inside the chrysalis. This step uses a lot of energy to heat and cool the water and raises ethical questions.

Vegetable fibers

Synthetic plant fibers (from petrochemicals and hydrocarbons)

Polyester: impact of oil extraction and transportation, and use of a lot of energy to produce the fiber.

Nylon or polyamide: greenhouse gas emissions during the production of the fiber.

Acrylic: use of solvents to treat the fiber.

Artificial vegetable cellulose fibers: Viscose

Viscose (e.g. bamboo) is a natural polymer that is chemically dissolved and requires the use of sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid in the treatment of the fiber’s bleaching. This process therefore results in emissions to the air.

The ecological alternatives

All these fibers raise environmental issues, so it is important for us to know the ecological alternatives to their use.

– Organic cotton: no use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. It reduces the toxicity of the product by 93%.

– Cotton naturally irrigated by rainwater (Africa and India).

– Low-chemical cotton: For example, cotton from the Better Cotton Initiative

– Organic wool

– Wild silk: cultivation only takes place once the chrysalis has hatched.

– Hemp (plant): like flax, it grows naturally and helps to improve the soil.

– Biopolymers and polylactic acid (PLA): these are renewable and compostable crop derivatives. For example, corn starch is transformed into sugar. Its decomposition forms polymerized lactide acid to become polylactide.

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